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United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorizes a no-fly zone over Libya and the protection of civilians by all means necessary, is the culmination of a decade-long effort to radically strengthen the ability of the UN to intervene in sovereign nations through the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine. Behind the initiative are, unsurprisingly, some of the usual suspects: National Security Council adviser Samantha Power and her patron George Soros. Their call to prevent human rights abuses through military intervention masks an agenda to alter drastically the concept of state sovereignty and to allow the United Nations to essentially co-opt the US military.
A 2008 backgrounder produced by The Heritage Foundation on the Responsibility to Protect articulates one of the most dangerous aspects of the doctrine: “R2P would effectively cede U.S. national sovereignty and decision-making power over key components of national security and foreign policy and subject them to the whims of the international community.” What we are seeing unfold in Libya today may very well be a test case for this doctrine: the United Nations has “borrowed” the US military to enforce its idea of Gaddafi’s “responsibilities.” And one question of grave concern is: Might the UN also “borrow” the U.S. and other Western militaries in future to impose its will on member states it feels are not living up to the UN’s nebulous idea of state responsibilities?
Before we examine the ingredients of this potentially catastrophic scenario, a bit of historical background is necessary. The Responsibility to Protect doctrine, which is deliberately nebulous and ill-defined, is not new. In fact, Hitler’s intervention in the Sudetenland was justified by “humanitarian reasons.” Hitler’s propaganda machine created mass hysteria in Germany by falsely accusing Czechoslovakia of carrying out atrocities against ethnic Germans. Hitler negotiated with Neville Chamberlain on the basis that he was only going to intervene to save lives. Chamberlain may not have bought Hitler’s lies, but Munich occurred nonetheless.
The doctrine was applied sporadically for the next 50 years because military intervention of any kind during the Cold War risked nuclear confrontation. Although the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was justified by Moscow as a “humanitarian” endeavor, there were few other cases.
Once the Soviet Union disappeared, a host of situations occurred in the 1990s that drove debate in the United Nations toward accepting the use of humanitarian intervention to stop governments from killing their own people. The ad hoc nature of these interventions gave an opening to individuals who wished to codify UN intervention into international law. Most of these same people also recognized humanitarian intervention as a means of vastly strengthening the UN, while weakening the sovereignty of nations.
The history of Responsibility to Protect bears this out. The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) was formed out of the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000 with a mandate “to promote a comprehensive debate on the relationship between intervention and sovereignty, with a view to fostering global political consensus on how to move from polemics towards action within the international system.”
The ICISS issued a report in December of 2001 titled “The Responsibility to Protect” that encapsulated “the Commissioners’ views on intervention and state sovereignty and their recommendations for practical action.” The document was sent to the UN for debate and approval.
At the UN, a firestorm broke out over the R2P concept (now the official name of “humanitarian intervention”), largely divided between the industrialized West and the impoverished South. The former colonies only saw a legal way for Western powers to invade them, while the West — including the United States — viewed R2P as a potent weapon to prevent another Rwanda.
The ICISS was chaired by Gareth Evans, former foreign minister for Australia, whose thoughts about the report and sovereignty in particular bear looking at in detail. Mr. Evans sought to turn the debate on sovereignty “on its head” by “characteriz[ing] it not as an argument about the ‘right’ of states to anything, but rather about their ‘responsibility’ — one to protect people at grave risk.”
That “responsibility” is to be defined by the United Nations. Mr. Evans envisions a world where sovereign nations are hardly “sovereign” as we understand the term. Indeed, Evans is seeking nothing less than a brand new definition of sovereignty — what he calls “a new way of talking about sovereignty itself.” The starting point, he says, is that sovereignty “should now be seen not as ‘control,’ as in the centuries-old Westphalian tradition, but, again, as ‘responsibility.'”
No “rights.” No “control.” At least Mr. Evans is willing to let nations keep their borders — for now — although that may also be under threat from R2P. One can imagine the United Nations taking the US to task for trying to keep millions of illegals from crossing our border: We have no “right” to keep hungry, desperate people from seeking a better life. Might our border policies also violate the R2P doctrine? Indeed, such an argument is already being made.
In 2004, the Secretary General Kofi Annan set up a blue ribbon committee to examine the ICISS findings and issue a report to the United Nations. The Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change swallowed the “new” definition of sovereignty while recommending R2P be adopted as a matter of policy and law. Their report, “A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility,” recommended that it be the responsibility “of every State when it comes to people suffering from avoidable catastrophe, mass murder and rape, ethnic cleansing by forcible expulsion and terror, and deliberate starvation and exposure to disease.”
In other words, “responsibility” has morphed from the 1990s concept–which entailed that it is up to the world community or voluntary coalitions to intervene where necessary to protect innocents–to a set of rules that sovereign nations themselves must satisfy the United Nations or the hammer will fall.
In direct violation of its own charter, the UN has set itself up as the arbiter of where sovereignty begins and ends, tossing aside Article 51’s “inherent right to self-defense” clause. The Office of the Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide at the UN makes this clear. The individual state’s idea of sovereignty takes a back seat to the UN’s judgment: “Sovereignty no longer exclusively protects States from foreign interference; it is a charge of responsibility where States are accountable for the welfare of their people.”
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